Adventures of a Tattooed Tribal Bellydancer #7—Talking Ink
THE DANCERS TALK TATTOOS
I am always amazed at the plethora of gorgeous ink on the dancers I meet, when I travel around the globe to teach my Gypsy Caravan style of tribal bellydance. When I first started bellydancing, twenty-five years ago, I had already started my personal tattoo path, researching history, design ideas, and artists, while living in San Francisco. Terry Tweed did my first tattoo, and it immediately grew from that point, working on my large shoulder and backpiece by Madame Vyvyn Lazonga. I also began my photographic journey, which became a limited edition artist book called Skin Stories.
In my ongoing dance journey of taking Tribal global, I still want to see the dancers art and hear their ink stories, in relation to their dance. On my most recent trip to Flagstaff, Arizona, I taught my three-day intensive certification program for seven dancers, several who were extensively inked. I danced on for two more days of workshops with twenty-five dancers and there was more ink, My troupe, Gypsy Caravan Dance Company, performed in the showcase, making for a great weekend of our tribal bellydance, as well as the added visual treat of tattoo art.
Ink on dancers, specifically tribal dancers, has grown so much since I started, and the tasteful eye candy is always inspiring and exciting to witness in class or on the stage. The most positive and awesome Fran Leo, from New York, who is sixty-two years old, starting getting tattooed when she was thirty-eight, but did not start dancing until she was fifty.
“I began to adorning my body with multiple tattoos, increasing in size and location. There was a significant difference between the cabaret-style dancerʼs body—basically tattoo free—and how mine was evolving. My body looked better dancing with a sword and cuff bracelets than it did with harem pants and sequins. I felt like my dance needed to be as powerful as my ink made me feel. Each of my tattoos is part of the visual history of me—significant life events captured—each event added to not my experience and made me stronger. Connection, empowerment, belonging, sharing, empowering, and expression of the raw power of being female is how Tribal feels to me, just as my tattoos express those traits on my skin.”
In my intensive classes, I am always asking the dancers to write/journal about their dance, and I love to hear about why each dancer dances. Our tribal dance is so universal, yet so personal. Fran wrote to me that she dances for “health, fitness, fun, friendship, expression, beauty, gracefulness, learning something new, pushing the envelope, pushing everyone elseʼs envelope, to be different, to feel beautiful, to dance what I may not be able to say, because I can, because it feels so good, because we are spatial creatures, because it exercises a part of the brain that is idle most of the day in a traditional job, because music is for more than listening, because you canʼt imagine not being able to move, and because you can believe you can move so beautifully.”
Talking with the wild and crazy fifty-one-year-old Fonda from Tucson, she announced that bellydance came first for her, and getting tattooed came many years later. “I have an image of the Lord of Dance taking up my entire back! Could I be any more committed to dance? I had always loved tattoos, my father has a great piece, from his time as a sailor in World War II, and, as a child, I would stare at it for hours. When I found tribal bellydance, I was very happy to see so many tattooed dancers, which lead me to start thinking seriously about what work I would want done.
“My backpiece is Nataraj (Shiva), the Hindu God of Destruction, also known as the Lord of Dance. As a child my uncle who lived in Africa brought me a statue of a dancer. I treasured the statue and thought it was the most amazing piece of artwork ever created. I learned years later that is was Shiva. When I began bellydancing, I noticed the image was everywhere. Shortly after I started dancing I ended up going through a really terrible divorce. At the same time I was reading about Shiva, and was moved by the theory of everything being destroyed in order to move forward and create a new life.
“The original design had my tattoo all fitting in between the top of my pants and the bottom of my choli. As the design progressed, the artist and I knew it should go big, so it ended up taking my entire back. I now give very specific attention to how my costumes will work with my ink.”
The outspoken Provi from Maryland states that although dancing for the past twelve years, she only started getting inked in 2012. “I almost lost both my ability and desire to dance last year because of a severely traumatic event that sent me into a deep and dangerous depression. My dance suffered. I almost gave it up, but I made a promise not to, and so I had endured a very difficult struggles to regain my enthusiasm. My tattoos symbolize my ongoing efforts to overcome and become the new me. I am still on my journey to regain what I lost. The Phoenix rising out of the lotus flower on my back symbolizes rebirth and the renewal of life and spirit. The Zuni Bear on my wrist symbolizes strength and introspection.
Cutie dancer with the beautiful smile, Jamie Alascia, from Goodyear, Arisona, started her tattoo journey earlier in her life, when she was twenty-one, before she found her dance. Now thirty-six, she has been dancing for ten years. “When I got my first several tattoos, I did not consider that anyone would see them. I got them for me, not to share with others. So it was interesting, when I began to share the stories behind my ink with others. I realized I liked sharing my stories. I also discovered that I really loved hearing otherʼs stories. After I started getting seriously into bellydance, I thought about the fact that others would see my ink and that I wanted it to look beautiful and enhance my curves. Once that happened, if I got a tattoo, I always took into account how it would look with costumes and during the movements my body made in the dancing.
I so love hearing everyone’s personal story about their dance and their art. With our tribal dance, it is a universal language, even though it looks different on each of us as we dance together doing the same moves. We have our own interpretation within the group, our own way of moving, even though we are synchronized. That is part of the beauty of the dance style. And it is a dance for everyone and every body. To have visual art on our skin is very personal, and everyone has the chance to make it their own, with their vision, their own meanings, their own style. How awesome is that?
Until next trip,
—Paulette Rees-Denis (www.paulettereesdenis.com)
Look for Paulette’s book, Tribal Vision, A Celebration of Life Through Tribal Bellydance.